Monday, November 26, 2012

Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation Calls Fast Food Burgers Healthy, Nutritious & Good for You

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's "visionary mission" is,
"Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen."
And among their stated values is,
"Integrity – acting ethically to ensure transparency, accountability and public trust."
So how then can one explain the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Health Check program which just last week extended their imprimatur to Harvey's - a Canadian fast food burger joint? Yup, you can now buy Health Check'ed Harvey's veggie, chicken and regular burgers, where the veggie and chicken burgers contain 930mg and 950mg of sodium respectively (nearly 2/3 of the Heart and Stroke Foundation's daily recommended aim of 1,500mg).

What? Your family doesn't feel like burgers tonight? They want fast food pizza? No problem - Health Check'ed fast food pizzas exist too:

And you may as well wash it down with Health Check'ed grape juice containing double the calories and 30% more sugar than Coca-Cola, and why not have some Health Check'ed "fruit gummies" for dessert even though Twizzlers contain less sugar?

No self-respecting dietitian or health organization would ever claim that encouraging eating out in restaurants, drinking juices containing 10.5 teaspoons of sugar per glass, and eating faux-fruit candies that contain more sugar than actual candy could possibly be good for living healthy lives. And yet that's exactly what the Heart and Stroke Foundation is actively teaching Canadians with their disgraceful, and nutritionally unethical, Health Check program.

In fact they're abusing the very public trust they consider one of their core values - a trust that they use themselves to market the Health Check program. Here are some facts and figures from a 2004 Heart and Stroke Foundation press release on the Health Check program,

  • 8 in 10 consumers say they can trust Health Check because it comes from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

  • 68% of respondents agree with the statement: “I can rely on Health Check to help me make healthy food choices."

  • 64% of those surveyed by Ipsos-Reid indicate they are more likely to purchase a food or beverage from a grocery store if it bears the Health Check logo.

  • According to a report on Food Information Programs published in the Canadian Journal of Dietary Practice and Research (summer 2002), information logos are three times more popular than detailed nutrition information for helping to select between food products. The Health Check symbol reassures consumers that they’ve made a healthy choice.

  • A 2005 press release had this to say,
    "The Health Check symbol complements mandatory nutrition labelling, in a 2004 research study, sixty-five percent of consumers recognized the Health Check logo as meaning the food is 'nutritious', 'healthy', 'good for you' or 'approved by the Heart and Stroke Foundation."
    Really? Fast food burgers and pizzas, along with juices and candies that pretend they're fruit are "Nutritious, healthy, and good for you"?

    Dietitians of Canada (both the organization and individual RDs) - where are you on this? Journalists - how about you?

    It's beyond shameful.

    Make your voice heard, or at the very least, consider voting by closing your wallet the next time the Heart and Stroke Foundation comes looking for your support, and when you do, make sure you tell their canvasser why. The Heart and Stroke Foundation, despite the incredible amount of good work that it does, is blatantly and callously misinforming a nation, and it absolutely and undoubtedly knows better and we shouldn't be letting them get away with it.

    There are no ends that justify these means and how the powers that be at the Heart and Stroke Foundation sleep at night knowing that Health Check is out there and is actively misinforming Canadians is truly beyond me.

    [Hat tip to Dr. Paul Boisvert who alerted me to this most recent Health Check'ed nonsensical fast food endorsement]

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    1. Anonymous8:15 am

      One of the CBC shows (might have been Marketplace or the other one that used to run back back to with) did a story about Health Check outlining pretty much the same issues you've said. It was eye opening and had me give "Health Check" a second look. It does seem quite odd the products they review and "check".

    2. Anonymous8:52 am

      I lost whatever respect I had for HSF when I saw the Health Check on the Pizza Hut website! Seriously..Pizza Hut?? They make the most unhealthy pizza out there. I don't put much stock into their Health Check program anymore, I know it's all for money.

    3. Anonymous9:51 am

      Next time the H&S come calling, I won't be kicking in any of my dollars as long as Health Check continues to be a shill for corporate interests.

    4. Anonymous10:12 am

      As a dietitian, I routinely tell my patients that the health check symbol is an advertising tool that the food companies have purchased from H&S and thus cannot be trusted.

      I routinely teach DASH and low-sodium diets to hypertensive patients and in our classes we show examples of health checked food that aren't appropriate.

      Every time I see that commercial with the Health Check dietitians in the grocery store I cringe.

      I also no longer support H&S financially.

      It's an embarrassment to dietitians!

      1. Rebecca11:51 am

        As I Dietitian too, I also cringe each time I hear the HSF say their products are approved by " our Registered Dietitians" as it puts us all in a bad light.

        Every label reading class I teach I lump the health check in with all other front of label marketing that is targeting consumers but is useless in helping us determine if a product is health or not.

    5. Anonymous11:50 am

      What a gong show!!! With ALL the info out there, nutrition remains an enigma to many!! I had an awkward conversation with a 60-plus lady the other day. She is trying to lose weight (mainly tummy fat). She starves during the day (no breakfast, cappuccino in the morning, packaged fruit yogurt and fruit at lunch time; main meal at supper time; goes for fat-free crap without reading labels AND doesn't drink any water unless it has that MIO for flavour.... So sad....

    6. Anonymous1:24 pm

      Dr. Freedhoff, the 1500mg is NOT the maximum sodium intake limit; it is the adequate limit. The current upper limit (that is the recommended daily intake that should not be exceeded) is 2300mg. It is the goal of most health care researchers and practitioners to reduce the excessive 3400mg average (also these numbers are not absolute) intake currently existing in Canada.

      These recommended values are calculated based on normal renal function and health (Person with high blood pressure or diabetes; should consult with their physician on their diet). They are also guidelines that take into account the normal median averaging of sodium intake; knowing, that there are generally both spikes and troughs in healthy diets for low-sodium consumption. The proposed meals are emphasizing, low fat protein (including beef, chicken and veggie protein), high vegetable content (ie salad with no-fat dressing), and wholegrain breads. These ARE recommended consumption focus-areas by the Canadian Food Guide, which is the guide used by the HSF-HC program.

      The fact is, people will eat at restaurants. The goal is, to make them choose better when they do and raise awareness regarding sodium intake when eating out. This I would hope would encourage them to also make low sodium meal choices when at home.

      Dr. Freedhoff you should check yourself. I don't think it is the policy of the HSF-HC program to promote eating out at restaurants, but to encourage meal consciousness therein and promote the food guide. Eating out should be followed by healthy eating at home. Further, you are misrepresenting facts: where is the HSF-HC promoting sugar-added fruit juices and fructose corn syrup candies as healthy?! I agree it is always better to eat whole fruit compared to any other product derived from fruit. But there is a difference between grape Kool-Aid and no-sugar added grape juice. Dehydrated/concentrated fruits are of a debatable health benefit; that is if you only compare sugar content, particularly in obese or diabetics, it is most definitely risky food choices. Yet, in reasonable amounts there are antioxidants, vitamins, and micronutrients to be had (less the benefit of fiber of course); volume of consumption really is the issue there. If you have a point, then by all means make it, but don't abuse your status as a health professional to fear monger, run-down a great organization and otherwise grind your ax against unrelated matters. Why don't you lend a hand to the HSF-HC if you are so inclined and have so much spare time?

      To the dietitians, before you run down your colleagues (and yes there really are registered dietitians at the HSF-HC) in blogs; try writing about your concerns, or even participating in the health awareness strategies of the Health Canada and NGO groups like the HSF first.

      1. Actually the Heart and Stroke Foundation is a signatory on Blood Pressure Canada's document calling for sodium consumption to drop to between 1,200 and 2,300 per day but even putting that aside, giving Health Checks to meals with 41% of the 2,300mg you mention is far from brag worthy.

        The argument, "people will eat at restaurants" so why not give "better" choices is nonsense too. What the HSF is doing is giving people permission to eat out and leading them to believe that they can do so healthfully. Moreover there's a huge body of evidence out there to suggest that having "healthier" items available leads not only to their over consumption due to health halo'ing, but to the paradoxical increase in unhealthy choices (a behaviour researches called, "vicarious goal fulfillment").

        Lastly, defending juice and "fruit gummies" as nutritious? Good grief. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends a daily maximum of half a cup of juice for the under 6 crowd and 1 cup for everyone else for a reason - it's flat soda pop with vitamins. And "Fruit" gummies that dupe parents into thinking that their kids are eating actual fruit? Where the gummies have more calories and sugar than actual candy? Are you honestly trying to defend those as even remotely nutritious let alone the message they teach parents and kids?

      2. Anonymous2:10 pm

        Actually apart from the salt, the grilled chicken sandwich sounds pretty decent, alright macros. Dislike the probable lack of fibre and white bun, but would definitely purchase that sandwich. Ideal for when your peers and there preferences cause you to end up in a fast food chain.

      3. Anonymous3:29 pm

        Just for the record - HSF is the ONLY NGO/non-profit I am aware of that SELLS it's nutrition advice.

        I happen to be a dietitian for a different health charity and we unfortunately don't have the money that HSF has because we don't sell our stamp of approval to the highest bidder. And we - along with HSF - are signatories recommending a reduction in the sodium consumption of adults.

        I hardly consider it running down my colleagues when they are approving products that don't even meet the standards that they set.

        My recommendation is always "fresh, unprocessed foods" but unfortunately there's no money to be had from farmers!


    7. How can a grilled chicken burger with 950 mg sodium, good for 41% of RDA be healthy approved by Heart& Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program?
      Multigrains buns? Really? I suspect the first ingredient is not Whole wheat, so not healthy neither. Best of worse, but not healthy.